A protest against one racial inequity – tree deserts

Minneapolis’ low-income neighborhoods are planting trees and gardens to help create closer communities and heal social divisions.

Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
Trees are absent in front of row houses in a low-income neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, last year.

In a few U.S. cities, street protests against racial inequities have escalated in the two months since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In that city, however, people are trying something else. From pastors to politicians, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, they are “working to quell community tensions and exploring new strategies to combat racial injustice.”

One particular effort focuses on bringing people together to reshape the urban landscape – literally. In the city’s racially diverse northern neighborhoods, for example, volunteers and local residents have been working the land since June – planting trees, creating gardens – as an act of social healing.

This urban regreening “is about putting Black, brown, Indigenous, white hands in the soil together,” Jordan Weber, artist-in-residence at the Walker Art Center, told Minnesota Public Radio.

According to various studies, people who live in communities with trees and gardens tend to be closer to one another. A canopy of trees in summer can prevent “heat islands” that drive people off the streets. With more trees, people tend to be outside more where they can meet neighbors. Shared gardens not only root useful plants but also a community. With more natural greenery around them, neighbors have a stake in protecting their environment.

Places without such leafy cohesion have “tree inequity,” according to American Forests, the nation’s oldest conservation organization dedicated to protecting and restoring U.S. forests. Since 2018, the group has launched a campaign to plant trees in marginalized communities.

“A map of tree cover in virtually any city in America is also a map of income and, in many cases, race in ways that transcend income,” writes Jad Daley, president and CEO of American Forests. By 2030, the group wants every neighborhood in the 100 largest cities to reach tree equity, based on a score that combines three indicators: tree canopy, climate projections, and public health data.

Racial inequities have many causes and thus many solutions. Changes are needed, for example, in schools, housing, and police. In Minneapolis, residents are showing an additional route to racial equity – in the shared love and respect of their trees and gardens.

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